Skype 2.0 adds video telephony

Skype has released the beta of Skype version 2.0, including support for video telephony.

An 8MB download, it installs itself as simply as any previous version of Skype and interrogates for a webcam. If one is present, it allows the option of video on any call to another Skype 2.0 user -- in which case a 4x4 inch video image appears within the tabbed Skype window for that conversation. The video can be blown up to the full screen, if the user has a good enough quality web-cam.

The overall Skype interface is slightly simplified but much as before -- and the Skype icon on screen changes color to blue.

The company has set up with Logitech and Creative to certify headsets and webcams for use with Skype 2.0, and also has partnerships with Weblog software and services company Six Apart.

"At Skype we want to make talking over the Internet the most natural, simple thing for people to do all over the world," said Niklas Zennstrom, chief executive of Skype, now a senior executive at eBay since that company bought Skype in September.

The new features in Skype - including video -- are mostly commonplace in instant messaging systems such as Yahoo, AOL and MSN Messenger, which have had video for some time. Skype is banking on their inclusion adding to the attraction of a product that majors on telephony, not chat.

Among the other tweaks well known to IM users, are avatars and a better set of presence functions, that let the user tell other Skypers his mood -- or his time zone, to avoid being woken in the middle of the night.

Users can now group contacts, and start conference calls to a whole group with one click.

Skype is also capitalizing on its 67 million users, by improving the ability to search for contacts by name and email address in the Skype database. An update of the beta Google Toolbar for Microsoft Outlook is also included, to let users dial from e-mails, and the company is promoting the ability to put Skype dialling buttons on blogs and web pages.

Although the software is still beta, Logitech will be selling Skype-certified webcams immediately through the Skype web store and Creative will sell them in the shops. Logitech has two certified 1.3 megapixel webcams, which include a headset and face tracking technology.

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